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Last in a series

From staff reports

Here are some of the people and events that made the news in 2008:

– On Oct. 8, Troup County sheriff’s Lt. Rick Massie was driving his patrol car on South Thompson Road when an oncoming vehicle went out of control in a curve. The head-on collision nearly severed Massie’s right foot and caused other serious injuries. Two days later, his two children were riding in a car that overturned on Hunt Road. The kids were all right, but their grandmother suffered a concussion that got her admitted to the hospital. Twenty years ago, Massie was involved in another head-on collision when a drunk driver crossed the center line on Whitaker Road and struck Massie’s patrol car.

– Larry Harris had a long run in the headlines - from April to November - over his quest to get elected sheriff of Troup County. Harris, who said he had been “held to a different standard than any other candidate in the history of Troup County,” was disqualified both as a Democratic Party candidate, then as an independent.

After an appeal and consent order, Harris was allowed to have his votes counted in the Nov. 4 general election, which he lost to incumbent Donny Turner by a margin of 64 percent to 34 percent. The election rendered moot the issue of whether Harris’ nominating petition as an independent met legal requirements.

– Randy and Beth Norred, along with her father, Pete Turner, called attention to inequitable property tax appraisals in Troup County, leading to an investigation by the state Department of Revenue that found plenty of flaws in the the tax assessors office, but no evidence of favoritism. The office has since purchased new appraisal software, restructured its management and operations, and requested more personnel in addition to a reappraisal of the entire county’s 33,000 parcels of land. The County Commission is expected to decide Jan. 6 whether to accomplish the appraisal in-house or pay an outside contractor nearly $1 million. A mass reappraisal was last done in 1992.

First it was Gilley, then it was Gulley.

Daryl Gilley retired in August after six years as president of West Georgia Technical College. Soon after, the state announced plans to merge the LaGrange school with West Central Technical College in Carrollton because of state budget cuts, although both campuses will stay intact. Twelve other technical schools in Georgia will merge as well.

In October, LaGrange College President Stuart Gulley announced he will step down in June to become president of Woodard Academy in Atlanta, the largest college prep school in the country. Gulley, the 24th president of LaGrange College, will have served for 13 years.

– On Sept. 26, Jenna Brown, 14, went into cardiac arrest at Lafayette Christian School and overcame a 4 percent chance of survival, thanks to quick action by fellow students, parents, school administrators, law-enforcement officers and medical personnel.

– LaGrange hunting and fishing guide Joey Mines was the sole witness to a plane crash Feb. 1 in Mount Airy, N.C., that killed six Georgians that Mines was to have led on a hunting trip. Mines was supposed to have been on the aircraft, but his plans changed and he decided to drive up and meet them at the airport.

– David Adams of Newnan shot and killed a cougar while hunting Nov. 16 on Army Corps of Engineers property near the Abbotsford community. Adams could face charges if autopsy results show the 140-pound cougar belonged to the Florida Panther family, an endangered species.

– January brought West Point a new mayor, Drew Ferguson IV, who won the November 2007 election over incumbent Billy Head. Ferguson, 41, quickly became the public face of West Point, as more and more national media take note of the town where Kia Motors is building its first U.S. plant. Most recently, Ferguson has led the movement to create “West Point WINS: Walking In Success.”

Ferguson had said after his election that he wanted to focus on children and families in West Point, but that goal took on new urgency after the Boys & Girls Club of West Georgia temporarily shut down this summer. The West Point unit did eventually reopen, but city leaders have not been pleased with its operation. West Point WINS wants to seek private funding for its faith-based programs. Initially the focus will be on the city’s youth, although organizers hope to expand the program to include entire families.

– Former West Point Fire Chief Gary Harrison landed in hot water the same night he was sworn in to the City Council in January. After his first regular meeting concluded, Harrison used a racial slur in front of a city employee, causing many West Point residents to call for his resignation.

Harrison, who never publicly apologized, eventually resigned from City Council after fellow council members refused to make a change in the city’s retirement policy that would have affected Harrison’s pension if he’d stayed on. Harrison, along with a few council members, believed the retirement policy was brought up to force him out.

West Point resident and Lanett, Ala., schoolteacher Ann Wallace succeeded Harrison, but that process itself was months-long and not without controversy. Council wanted to have a special election to fill the seat but was told by Troup County elections chief, Probate Judge Donald Boyd, that an election would go against the city’s charter. Council eventually did appoint Wallace, the only available candidate left on the ballot from the November 2007 election.

– West Point Police Chief David Kerr also had a “bumpy” time in 2008. He received a concussion and was flown to an Atlanta hospital after getting caught in the seatbelt of a suspect’s car and being dragged down the street. The suspect eventually was arrested and Kerr made a full recovery.

– Former Hogansville Police Chief Guy Spradlin was fired in January after sending a racially tinged text message to a former dispatcher. The city later hired Moses Ector, the retired No. 3 man at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to succeed Spradlin.

Ector brought with him a host of changes aimed at improving the department, including a Citizen’s Police Academy and “Meet the Chief” nights once a month. He’s working to get the department accredited with the state and has replaced and upgraded officers’ equipment, including buying more fuel-efficient patrol cars and replacing video recording systems in patrol cars. Hogansville now has an updated ordinance for “unruly houses,” allowing officers to break up large, disruptive parties. Council also adopted the state ordinance for dangerous dogs, allowing officers to seize vicious dogs running loose in the city. Most recently, Ector asked the council to sign off on the purchase of more equipment, including Taser stun guns. Council has yet to make a decision on that request.

– Toni Striblin, Hogansville’s better hometown coordinator and longtime volunteer, stepped away from her official duties this fall to spend more time with her family. She continues to volunteer with city events, including the Hummingbird Festival, Christmas parade and Halloween festivities. Striblin, who initially formed the city’s Cultural Arts Society, is credited with creating or reviving many of Hogansville’s holiday-themed events.

Crime and courts

– Two of the three men shot and killed in March at Doctors Hospital in Columbus had ties to LaGrange. Leslie Anthony “Les” Haris, 44, was an administrative assistant at the hospital who lived in LaGrange with Keith Cavendar, a cardiac nurse who also was working at the hospital on the day of the shooting. The targeted victim was registered nurse Peter Wright, 44, who was shot by a retired teacher who had a grudge over his mother’s medical treatment. Wright was the husband of Carla Wright, a longtime employee of LaGrange dentist Mick Firth.

– Randy Banks, 31, owner of Gun Country Outdoors and Banks Financial Services, pleaded guilty Aug. 12 to swindling 36 investors out of $8 million to $9 million. His $10 million bail bond was reduced to $100,000, and he was placed under house arrest, but has to return to jail on March 2. Sentencing was deferred while he tries to help victims recoup at least part of their money.

“This man is horrified by what he has done to people,” said his attorney, Paul Kish.

Prosecutors said Banks ran a “ponzi scheme,” taking money from investors for his personal use, then giving part of it back to demonstrate it was earning interest. The scheme fell apart when he ran out of money.

– Brennan Joseph “Jo Jo” Keeth, 28, was demonstrating an AK-47 on Feb. 19 at his home on Thornton Road when the gun went off and killed 17-year-old Natorrin “Tory” Brown of LaGrange. Prosecutors indicted Keeth in May on involuntary manslaughter charges, saying he caused Brown’s death by handling a loaded firearm under the influence of drugs. Keeth, who went to a rehabilitation center, also faces charges of aggravated assault in a separate incident, along with other offenses. Brown’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit.

– In January, a federal judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit that had been brought by the family of Greshmond Gray of LaGrange, who died on Nov. 2, 2004, after being shocked by police with a Taser stun gun. Judge Jack T. Camp said none of the evidence indicated police used excessive force. An autopsy at the GBI crime lab found that Gray had a heart condition that heightened his risk of dying under intensively stressful conditions.

– On June 27, Charlie Boyd Jr., 26, and Mario Griffin, 23, both of Hogansville, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for the June 19, 2006 beating death of 46-year-old Jimmy Clark of Hogansville. Clark, who had cirrhosis of the liver, died three weeks later at Atlanta Medical Center after contracting pneumonia. Boyd had been acquitted in three previous felony trials, including a case in which he allegedly shot a man twice in the head. The man survived and testified against Boyd to no avail.

– Steven Alan Messer, 25, of Phenix City, Ala., who accidentally shot and killed his father-in-law at the victim’s home on Abbey Glen Drive, fled after he was indicted in May, but was arrested about two weeks later in Waterbury, Conn., while trying to steal copper wire from an abandoned building. He was sentenced on Sept. 8 to three years in prison and seven years’ probation for involuntary manslaughter.

– Chad Moman, 28, of LaGrange was charged with homicide by vehicle, DUI and leaving the scene of an accident after witnesses said his car ran over and killed a 3-year-old girl July 23 at Fairwood Trailer Park off Whitesville Street. He was denied bail at a hearing.

– Courtney Lockhart, 23, of Smith’s, Ala., was charged with committing an armed robbery at West Georgia Medical Center in March, the day after he allegedly shot and killed Auburn University student Lauren Burk, 18, and burned her car.

– An 11-year-old girl was found dead with “horrendous injuries” in her mother’s car March 9 at LaGrange Travel Center on Whitesville Road at Interstate 85. Her mother, Nancy Akinyi Kasera, 38, of Thomasville, N.C., was extradicted to North Carolina to face charges. The victim had been dead for 12 to 24 hours and her injuries indicated a pattern of “long-term abuse,” authorities said.

– In January, a federal judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit that had been brought by the family of Greshmond Gray of LaGrange, who died on Nov. 2, 2004, after being shocked by police with a Taser stun gun. Judge Jack T. Camp said none of the evidence indicated police used excessive force. An autopsy at the GBI crime lab found that Gray had a heart condition that heightened his risk of dying under intensively stressful conditions.

Kia news

– Oliver N. Tate, 47, an employee of Superior Rigging and Erecting of Atlanta, died Jan. 29 after the rigging failed and he was struck by a 7,850-pound steel column at the Kia Motors construction site in West Point. OSHA levied fines of $13,200 against Tate’s employer.

– Sewon America broke ground in May on a $170 million plant plant in the Callaway South industrial park to supply stamped chassis and body components to Kia. Sewon expects to eventually hire 700 people.

Powertech America is building a $150 million automatic transmissions plant with 355 employees at the Kia site.


– William Andrews, 57, of Newnan drowned Sept. 7 at Horace King Park after his fishing boat sank. His brother-in-law, Michael Ramburg, 46, of Covington was pulled from the water by people who heard cries for help, but he later died as well.

– A Sept. 10 fire destroyed the six-unit Holliday apartments at 113 Jones St., but everyone escaped without injury.


– On Dec. 23, city and county leaders announced plans for a $170 million biomass plant in LaGrange that would burn scrap wood to produce enough electricity to supply 25,000 homes.

– The LaGrange Fire Department built a new station at 1425 S. Davis Road and a new administration building at 115 Hill St., the former location of the Boys & Girls Club. The new station, which began operations in September, was designed for maximum energy efficiency.

– A short lived “swingers club” on Hogansville Road ignited controversy in August. Celtic Clover Corp. Inc., had registered as a non-profit organization with the Georgia secretary of state’s office March 21. The club’s Web site asked, “Are you a sexy single couple or a single female looking for a place to play that caters you? If so, you have found it!” The local governments adopted ordinances in an effort to curtail such establishments.

West Point Lake

The year 2009 is expected to bring a few “personnel” changes to lake issues. Joe Maltese, LaGrange’s assistant city manager for special projects and point-man on the lake, officially retired Dec. 31. And Jeff Brown, chairman of the West Point Lake Advisory Committee, resigned in December to take part in a Christian leadership program this year.

At least one face familiar to lake leaders came back in 2008. Pete Taylor, who retired two years ago as a colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has come back to the agency as a civilian to oversee the update of the water control manuals for the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Flint river basin. The updates began this fall with “scoping meetings” along the basin, including one in LaGrange.

That meeting attracted about 500 people but was just one of several major meetings on the lake this year. This summer, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville, held a field hearing in LaGrange so locals had a chance to testify about the economic impact of the 2007 drought. And in November, Brig. Gen. Joseph Schroedel of the corps’ Atlantic division, spoke to the West Point Lake Coalition. The bulk of Schroedel’s comments centered on defending the corps’ practice of managing the lake for flood control, in spite of the years-long drought in the region.

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